Answer this question right now to help you gauge how you're doing at developing small group leaders in your church community:
If somebody new signed up tomorrow to join a group, have you got space for them, and would you feel confident placing them into the hands of one of your leaders?
Few churches will answer "yes" to both of these.
Now imagine this...
A year from now, you have a growing group of leaders in your church who are confident and competent at facilitating discipleship throughout the week in small groups, and are ready and available to walk with new people through their faith journey.
We want to help you realise that vision.
It's a demonstrable fact that people tend towards growth in their faith in Jesus in the context of intentional, Jesus-focused community. You want that kind of growth for yourself, for those you love, and for the people turning up at your building on a Sunday. That's probably why your church has a 'small group' set-up of some kind in the first place.
But you can't make joining a small group a meaningful next step until you've built up a solid number of great small group leaders. Without good leaders, how will you ensure your small groups are moving people in a helpful direction, and are ready to receive new sign-ups?
So here are some top techniques and resources our network churches are learning to employ when it comes to gaining and training great group leaders - from a group leader who's currently benefitting from them!
How do you gain more small group leaders?
People need motivation and confidence to want to give small group leadership a go. It starts with how you make the 'ask.' Are you offering out an opportunity that will benefit somebody's walk with Jesus, or are you making a plea for help for the benefit of your organisation?
Here are four methods you can employ to inspire people to sign up for group leadership.
Paint a picture of the difference their involvement in small group leadership could make - for them and for others
Casting a compelling vision for group life, and what a leader makes possible, will help people lean in who wouldn't otherwise step forward. Carve out a 2 minute slot in a Sunday service to paint this picture and inspire people with the story they could be part of if they became a group leader. Speak into the common doubts ('I don't know the Bible well enough') and excuses ('I don't have time to prepare sessions') that might make people reluctant to give it a go.
Specify a time frame for their initial commitment to group leadership
My first go at small group leadership came with an invitation to facilitate a small group for an 8 week course. Because the course had a start and an end point, I felt like I knew what I was getting myself in for, and that - worst case scenario - I wouldn't have to do it anymore after those two months! Two years on and I'm welcoming new group members into a growing small group next week.
Specifying an initial time commitment gives focus, relieves pressure, and creates 'taste and see' opportunities. Either they'll taste and see that small group leadership is good, or they'll get the chance to evaluate whether they want to continue and make a decision to move on - there's perhaps nothing more detrimental to a group than the drift of a leader who doesn't really want to be in that role but can't find a way out...
Make their first step ridiculously easy
People have plenty of excuses for not taking bold steps that will require their time, effort and energy - so don't give them another one. When you promote small group leadership, what's the easiest way people can take the step to say they're interested? Is there a number they can text on the screen, a piece of paper on their chair they can tick, or a QR code to a button they can press on the website? This is simply their initial nod of their head, then it's up to you to capitalise on that curiosity! Why not invite those initially interested people to an inspiring training event where they can start to get more serious about group leadership.
Decide in advance on the quality and character of a great small group leader who will set a positive direction and tone for a group
What if *THEY* sign up?! We've all thought it...so let's address it...
You need to know in advance what qualifies somebody for group leadership in your context. This criteria should be transparent (not hidden), explicit (not vague), and attainable (Jesus raised the stakes but he lowered the bar).
If you are tempted to keep your criteria hidden, it is probably unkind or unwise. If you could not live up to the criteria yourself, you probably need to check yourself or check your criteria! There's room within this for a personal approach, but it helps to keep yourself accountable to a previously agreed set of values to protect against any biases.
And most importantly on this one: always agree a next step with anybody who is not yet suited for small group leadership, and ensure they are placed within a group where they can continue to invest in spiritual growth
Check out this helpful video on the postures of a healthy leader.
(This Group Leaders website from North Point ministries contains so many amazing free resources).
How do you train effective small group leaders?
So you've had some volunteers step forward and say they're willing to give it a go! But don't just send them off to do their own thing...Now you have an opportunity to equip them to lead a thriving small group.
Let's run through a few things you need to do to get them set...
Provide group leaders with the goal for groups
You're not setting leaders up to win if you leave them to make up the goal of their group. Providing a goal for group life gives clarity, sets a heading and makes meaningful feedback and evaluation possible. This is empowering; once they have the goal they get to leverage their skills and creativity towards it. Communicate the goal clearly and regularly. Here's a great example of a training video you could create for your leaders:
Mutually agree upon what a healthy and effective group leader looks like
Always aim for a shared understanding between your church leaders and your group leaders on what a healthy and effective leader values, and who they strive to be. Your group leaders need to opt-in to holding themselves accountable to this first, and then to being held to account on this mutual vision.
Ensure leaders have a picture of how a group member feels and interacts within a great group environment
Your leaders serve your group, and so the best way they can gain an understanding of what they're there to do, is to understand what 'good' looks like for each group member. Help your leaders identify behaviours and attitudes that signal a group member is well served by their group environment, and the values that a group can hold together. For example, a good leader needs to be able to recognise and respond when conversation is regularly highjacked by one outspoken member. One great way to help leaders get attuned to this is to bring group leaders together in a group setting, so they can feel what it's like to be part of a productive group environment.
Give leaders the resources they need for group studies, practices, habits and rhythms
You want your leaders to spend time investing in people, not trawling the internet searching for group studies. Help free up their time for the right things by grouping together and curating great small groups studies that your people will find useful each term or each year.
Being part of the Further Faster Network gives churches access to RightNow Media at a significantly reduced cost, an incredible library of resources for personal and group study.
Situate everything within the context of becoming more like Christ
Because this underpins everything. The ultimate priority for that leader's life is that they become more like Christ, and help others to do the same. Jesus is the go-to on everything we should value most in groups and everything we should strive to become. Encourage your leaders to invest first and foremost in discipleship under Jesus, and remind them at every turn that they are trying to develop people who are like Jesus - which ultimately means that it is Jesus' job to transform a life from the inside out.
So those are (hopefully) some helpful tips for gaining and training your next cohort of great small group volunteers! Check out more incredible resources at https://groupleaders.org/ and connect with us on Facebook or Instagram to let us know what your church has discovered about gaining and training great group leaders, and for more helpful content on the subject!